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Who Is Holding The Minimum Wage Implementation? Labour Or Government? Special Interview With TUC Deputy National President: CHIKA ONUEGBU

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Deputy national president of Trade union congress CHIKA ONUEGBU says the Federal Government is simply delaying the minimum wage and passing the blame on labour leaders.

CHIKA ONUEGBU: in chat with our correspondent said minimum wage is not new, its not new to government and not new to labour. minimum wage implementation is the outcome of consequential adjustment of tripartite agreement which is the next stage after fixing the minimum wage is the consequential adjustment. And government is trying to play down on that in terms of the consequential adjustment, and labour leaders are saying there is a practice of how this is done all these years. And we expect that same practice to follow. It’s the outcome of negotiations and we expect that both parties, the tripartite committee, labour and government would negotiate in good faith and so we expect that government should follow that same process and practice.

QUESTION: WHAT STAGE IS THE MINIMUM WAGE NOW?

CHIKA:  The stage it is now is government and labour discussing the consequential adjustment. And for the private sector minimum wage is a law and it has to hold and for the public sector? We understand that the presidency has given directive that those earning less than 30,000.00 should be paid but the issue is not about those earning less than thirty thousand, the issue is as done, which is a notorious practice, and in law when something becomes a notorious practice, in effects it has become tradition and customs. And customs are always part of the law, so the custom is that the moment minimum wage is agreed and signed into law the consequential adjustment would follow which is not new, there is a history of how it’s done and government knows that history, it’s just for them to follow that same process and this whole thing would be off and put to rest.

QUESTIONS: YOU ARE AN ECONOMIST BY PROFESSION AND YOU KNOW THAT GOVERNMENT ACROSS THE WORLD IS EXPERIENCING DOWN TURN, CALL IT ECONOMIC MELTDOWN, DO YOU THINK NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT IS NOT ABLE TO PAY AS A RESULT OF SCARCITY OF FUNDS OR WHAT DO YOU THINK IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE GOVERNMENT INABILITY TO IMPLEMENT THE CONSEQUENTIAL ADJUSTMENT WHICH RUNS INTO BILLIONS OF NAIRA

CHIKA: I won’t speak for the government, because I am not their agents! I would only speak for labour because I have been elected as Deputy national president of the Trade Union Congress. What I know is that and I have heard people say it is that labour is to be blamed that they are just playing politics with the whole minimum wage thing. The truth remains that minimum wage is not a new thing, it’s something that has been there since 1981, that immediately after the new minimum wage there is consequential adjustments and it has always followed a certain pattern. So why is this one different? So that’s the simple truth, so it is for government to go to the negotiation table with an open mind and do the right thing. My only fear is that arrears are building and that may be a real burden on the government.

QUESTION: WHAT SHOULD BE A COMMON GROUND? BECAUSE GOVERNMENT IS SAYING THIS IS THE PERCENTAGE THEY CAN PAY AND LABOUR IS SAYING IT SHOULD BE ACCORDING TO HISTORY

CHIKA: Well the common ground is for government to make all their argument in the meeting where negotiation is going on rather than resort to blackmail, going to the press to tell them that labour is responsible for the delay in implementation of minimum wage is cheap blackmail when even them knows that is not the truth. they know that discussions are ongoing and consequential adjustment has to take place, minimum wage all over the world and in the case of Nigeria that has agreed at thirty thousand naira and that’s where it stops. Of course no! historically how has it been done? So they have the records and we think at the moment as it is, will help the government to concentrate in that discussion and ensure that all the arguments are brought during that internal discussion rather than going to press and be making statement that would be seen as vexatious.

QUESTION: SO THE REAL ISSUE HERE IN THIS MINIMUM WAGE IMPLEMENTATION IS FOR THOSE WHO ARE FROM LEVEL SEVEN AND UPWARDS TO ALSO BENEFIT?

CHIKA: YES

QUESTION: SO WHAT AGENDA IS TRADE UNION CONGRESS SETTING FOR THE NEW LABOUR MINISTER CHRIS NGIGE? OR WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FROM THE NEW MINISTERS OF LABOUR?

CHIKA: Well I refuse to talk about agenda setting, the only thing is that we congratulate them. Senator Dr. CHRIS NGIGE for his reappointment as minister of labour and we also congratulate senator TAYO OLASHODARA who is a minister of state for labour and we believe that with the experience Dr Chris Ngige has gained in the relationship with labour in the last four years as minister of labour would make him a better minister in this dispensation. And for senator Tayo Olashodara we have worked closely with him, he was the chairmen senate committee on petroleum upstream. So we worked closely with him in the petroleum Industry Governance bill (PIB).

‘’We also believe that both of them would work closely with labour movement and towards improving the welfare of the Nigerian workers and also in securing their jobs. First of all, we are happy to hear that Dr, CHRIS NGIGE has started by telling BANKS and Employers in the banking industry on the need to stop the indiscriminate layoff of workers to secure the jobs of workers in that industry. But I think they need to go beyond that and partner with Ministry of Finance and Economy, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Ministry of Petroleum just to see how enabling environment would be created to ensure that businesses are able to grow and able to take up more employments’’

‘’Because no matter what you do as minister of labour if the economy continues to Nosedive or the economy is nose diving and businesses are asking people to go as a result of the challenges they have, there is little you can do to keep these people. BUT IF THE ECONOMY IS IMPROVING? Businesses will improve and they will in turn needs people to work. They have spaces, opportunities and resources to keep these people’’

‘’So the work of the Ministry of Labour is that work which requires some level of interface and cooperation with other ministries. So we think he should develop the capacities and the boldness to also tell other Ministers in the partnering Ministries where they are getting it wrong because the issue is would be coming from those ministries where they are getting it wrong, in terms of policies, or policies that impacts negatively on the economy, labour and management relations.

TO BE CONTINUED(EWR)……

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